Branding

Branding Horror Story: SunLife

SunLife has launched a new advertising campaign in Canada. Because I couldn’t find it online, I’ll briefly describe it to you. A couple sitting in their kitchen start singing “If I only had a plan” to the tune of the song, If I Only had a Brain, from the Wizard of Oz.  Then their financial advisor joins them singing and dancing.

It reminds me of an old advertising saying, if you don’t have anything new to say, sing it.  There is no point of difference, no target market, no clear positioning, no evidence of an advertising strategy at all.

Whenever I see or hear this ad, all I think is that SunLife is for brainless people. And, because they used music so effectively, this is firmly wedged in my mind. (FYI, music has been shown to increase recall, so you need to be very cautious when using it.) 

Does SunLife think its customers are brainless? Probably not.  The nature of the financial advice business revolves around the relationship between advisor and customer.  If the company doesn’t respect you, you’re not likely to work with them.

Yet I now think that SunLife believes that I’m brainless. Maybe other people don’t think like me.  All I can say is that I hope they tested this spot before airing it.  It has all the earmarks of a branding disaster.

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8 replies »

  1. Nice post. I like your take on their strategy, or lack of it. It makes you think, did they consider what business problem they were looking to solve with the campaign? Either way, a miss on their part. Good insight.

    If you have some time check out my blog on digital and social strategy: http://stevemannino.wordpress.com/

  2. Wow did you ever miss the point. The song is also ‘if I only had a heart’ and ‘if I only had the nerve’. It changes dependent on who sings it.

    Life and ones needs also change dependent on who ‘sings’ – on who wishes, who wants, who desires, who has courage to believe that they ‘like the characters from Oz’ deserve what is missing from their lives.

    I like the ad. It’s lively and fun and devoid of suits behind desks paying lip service.

  3. Branding disaster or Branding insight?

    Many thanks for your tweet Colleen. However I need to jump in and add some insight to your assessment of our latest “Life’s brighter under the sun” campaign. I’m Sun Life’s assistant vice-president of corporate brand and marketing.

    You suggest that our campaign had no target market or clear positioning. In fact, our focus was to distinguish Sun Life from how financial institutions typically position themselves. With our musical approach and messaging (English advisor says, “Plan for your tomorrow, invest not have to borrow, I’m here to lend a hand” French advisor says, “Today, with you I’ll take care of everything”) I think we’ve established a very clear positioning around being a company that can be trusted and really seeks to think through financial planning.

    The song is a familiar tune that many ages can connect with, and by changing the words to better align with our business objectives it gives the song even more relevance to our target audience. And let’s remember, the musical Wizard of Oz had three versions of the Sun Life adapted song, “If I only had a Brain”, “If I only had a Heart” and “If I only had the Nerve”.

    I can also tell you that we tested the concept extensively. We knew from this that there would be a range of responses – but that those who liked it found it really resonated. And I can promise you Sun Life not only believes in the smartness of people, we rely on it in how try to engage people and educate them about the complexity of our business of wealth, health and financial security.

  4. Branding disaster or Branding insight?

    Many thanks for your tweet Colleen. However I need to jump in and add some insight to your assessment of our latest “Life’s brighter under the sun” campaign. I’m Sun Life’s assistant vice-president of corporate brand and marketing.

    You suggest that our campaign had no target market or clear positioning. In fact, our focus was to distinguish Sun Life from how financial institutions typically position themselves. With our musical approach and messaging (English advisor says, “Plan for your tomorrow, invest not have to borrow, I’m here to lend a hand” French advisor says, “Today, with you I’ll take care of everything”) I think we’ve established a very clear positioning around being a company that can be trusted, work with customers and really seeks to think through financial planning.

    The song is a familiar tune that many ages can connect with, and by changing the lyrics to better align with our business objectives it gives the song even more relevance to our target audience. And let’s remember, the musical Wizard of Oz had three versions of the Sun Life adapted song, “If I only had a Brain”, “If I only had a Heart” and “If I only had the Nerve”.

    I can also tell you that we tested the concept extensively. We knew from this that there would be a range of responses – but those who liked the concept found it really resonated – – fun, spirited and approachable. And I can promise you Sun Life not only believes in the smartness of people, we rely on it in how we engage people and help them understand about the complexity of our business of wealth, health and financial security.

  5. @ Colleen : Lol – I’m guessing you just don’t like musicals?
    I think the commercial is great – it gives the impression that a customer could walk into a Sunlife office (or their kitchen), and someone would be willing to spend the time to help them put together a financial plan. Simple.
    What new concept were you hoping the campaign to propose – free microwaves? Is solid service not enough to want to advertise?

    • You’re right, I’m not a big fan of musicals. But my point is that you could walk in to any competitor of Sunlife, and they too would be happy (in fact, they would jump all over each other) to put together a financial plan. The brand isn’t positioned to create a point of difference from its competitors. So why would a customer choose SunLife over another competitor?

      I have no objection to the service, and you’re right that gimmicks will just annoy customers. My point is that 1) there might be some unintended messages in the song; and, 2) that positioning around trust and planning just don’t create a meaningful point of difference.

      Thanks for the comment.

  6. I have to leave a comment about the post and the comments – which illustrate our ever-growing comfort with online connection. So to Colleen and all of us who blog, we need to be bold and say what we think, but also be careful and consider what we post, for more of us are reading and watching in our spare time, for fun, than we might think! I love the divergence of opinion and the response from a Sunlife exec. Pity the ads were not made available on the corporate website so we could all go have a look… I am also interested in the way the considered replies are quite like what we get through using online focus group methodology, if you have ever tried it, that is a solid contender to in-person groups when online content is being evaluated. None of us are ‘backward about coming forward’ with our opinions in writing, anymore than we would be if we were sitting conversing, today. I love a well written blog. If it is friendly and conversational, to me it seems like asynchronous chatting (real face-to-face chatting) – where anyone can jump into the conversation. Nice blog, Colleen. I found these posts via a comment by a mutual LinkedIn contact …. Read the latest, and decided to go back through some of the early posts!

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